Calving Glacier Injures Two Hikers In Glacier Bay National Park

Two hikers who were exploring the backcountry of Glacier Bay National Park are recovering today from injuries sustained when ice from a calving glacier struck them.

According to a dispatch from the park, the two were hiking along the face of Crillon Glacier at the head of Lituya Bay last Wednesday when "the glacier calved and large amounts of ice and debris struck them, causing severe injuries."

"The Coast Guard immediately launched a rescue operation, dispatching helicopter from Air Station Sitka. The response time was two hours, though," the release said. "Ranger Todd Bruno coordinated a simultaneous NPS response, sending district ranger Jacqueline Ashwell and seasonal ranger Erin Shandley from the Yakutat office via an airplane equipped with tundra tires that could land at the face of the glacier.

"Although they got to the scene before the Coast Guard, they were unable to land. Instead, they assisted the Coast Guard helicopter by maintaining communications with Sector Juneau while its crew was on the ground, treating the victims. One had suffered a head injury and possible concussion; the other had an open arm fracture. The third person in the group was not injured but was unable to operate the boat that they’d used to reach Lituaya Bay."

The three were airlifted to Sitka, where the two injured hikers were admitted to a local hospital.

Crillon Glacier is not a tidewater glacier and does not actively calve; since there is constant movement of ice and debris from the face of any glacier, though, visitors are always reminded to avoid walking or boating within a quarter mile of the glacier, park officials noted. Lituya Bay is approximately 100 air miles from Juneau. It’s seldom visited and can only be reached by boat or plane. Marine VHF communications are spotty at best.

Comments

We would like to thank the park service for all of your support and assistance. It was a relief when you arrived, even though you could not land, we knew you were there. Knowing you were aware our boats would be left in the Bay with you watching made it far easier to take care of ourselves as we left.

A couple of corrections--we hiked, from the shore, to the waterfall below the Cascade (not the Crillon) Glacier--we did not go near the face of the glacier. Obviously too close however! All three of us lay together under the Ice Avalanche. One was continuing to go into shock, the other was in the early stages of shock. There were two boats--we'd traveled in tandem for safety--the two skippers would need medical assistance. I sustained only minor injuries and was able to work toward keeping the party with the severely broken arm (tho not a compound fracture, a complete break mid humerus) from going into shock.

We arrived in Lituya Bay by pleasure boats on Wednesday May 26th around 2pm. We motored to the end of the Bay, anchored the boats, took the dingy to shore, hiked about 300 feet up a pristine hill below the Cascade Glacier at the end of the bay, took in the view and visited a beautiful waterfall.

We thought we heard a small piece of ice fall into the river and took a look through binoculars at the face of the glacier ahead and how much water was dripping from that piece. We could not see the base of the piece of ice about to calve due to our position below a hill or flat spot between us and the glacier. We decided it would be best to leave. As we were leaving the glacier calved. The large chunk fell to the north, most of it falling down into the river flowing out of the glacier.

Although I was certain at the time the entire face of the glacier had let loose, it was only a small amount of ice and debris that flew up over a flat spot bouncing to where we were and beyond. This *small* amount of debris appeared to me to create a formidable 6 to 10 foot wall of ice chunks.

I took my husband, with the head injury, to the boat and stabilized the bleeding. We called a "May Day" which was, fortunately received by a long-liner 40 miles off-shore. The good samaritan stayed with us by radio for about three hours relaying all our communication--in a very professional manner--to the Coast Guard (Kodiak Coast Guard relaying to the Sitka/Juneau Coast Guard). I was on shore with a hand-held radio, relaying back to a hand-held on our boat. This is a complex form of communication. Everyone is complimented for their patience and persistence to try to find out what really happened and what assistance we needed.

Friends and family flew to the bay and retrieved the boats (and a white king along the way) the next morning.

Sharon -

Thanks for the additional information. We hope everyone involved makes a speedy and full recovery!

Sharon--thanks so much for the information and the expression of appreciation. I will make sure our staff in the plane receive it, as well as Acting Chief Ranger Gus Martinez and District Ranger Jacqueline Ashwell who cooridinated the NPS response. We all wish you and your husband a speedy recovery!

Cherry Payne, Superintendent
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Sharon,

Glad to hear everyone's on the road to recovery. Sounds like an incredible story that you'll be retelling for years! If you have any photos of the glacier you'd like to share, I'm sure our readers would be interested.